Emergency Water for Preppers Part 3: Storage

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It seems as though every day I get a new question or two about emergency water.  The most interesting thing is that the questions get more detailed and more technical over time.  This tells me that preppers generally, and Backdoor Survival readers specifically, are an educated bunch that are willing to do whatever is necessary to ensure that they have safe, drinkable water following a disruptive event.

In the early days of my preparedness journey, I became some what of a water freak.  You may, in fact, have heard me use that term.  I was lucky enough to have the funds to purchase a 55-gallon water barrel from the get go but stupid enough to place it directly on concrete.  (You will learn the reason why that should not be done below.)

Emergency Water for Preppers Part 3 Storage | Backdoor Survival

As they say in the commercials, “you have come a long way, baby”.  In this, Part 3 in the series on emergency water, you questions on water storage will be answered once again, by Daisy Luther.  As you read the answers, consider your own circumstances and if you need to ask additional questions, or if anything is unclear, ask away!

Emergency Water for Preppers: Storage

A vital part of water preparedness is storage. If you live in the city or a dry climate, then suddenly water storage moves to an even more important level than it does when you live someplace with a natural body of water or a well that you can access in an emergency. With the increased need to store water comes an increased demand for space, which can be difficult to find in a smaller home or apartment.

When Gaye posted the review of my book, The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide, she asked you to post your questions about water. Today let’s discuss your questions about storing this life-giving resource.

How much water should you store per person for a one month supply to be used for drinking, cooking & hygiene?

This is one of those unanswerable questions, but I can give you a general idea. Common prepper wisdom says you should store one gallon per person per day, but this figure doesn’t account for the additional water you need for sanitation.

The average American uses well over 100 gallons of water per day for their normal activities. Now, obviously in an emergency you aren’t going to insist upon a 20-minute shower, but you’ll need additional water to keep clean.  You’ll want to be able to wash your dishes and wipe food preparation areas, wash your hands after using the restroom and before handling food, keep pets hydrated…the list goes on and on. 

You should plan on at least an additional gallon or two per day, per person, for non-consumption needs. If you have pets and livestock, you’ll need to increase this even more.

But, that number is just a guess. To be more accurate, the very best way to calculate how much you need is to do a “no-running-water” drill to see exactly how much you use. Shut off the main to your house and start the weekend with the number of gallons you think you need. Over the course of the weekend, document how much you actually use. You’ll probably be surprised at the amount. Then, think about places you could have cut back on your water usage. This will give you a baseline number for figuring out what a one month supply is for you.

Where can I store water in my small home?

When we’re talking about hundreds of gallons of water, it can be difficult to imagine where you might store all of that. If you have outdoor space, IBC 275 gallon tanks are a good option.

If you have no outdoor space, consider one of the stackable water storage systems. These work well in a basement where the weight won’t be an issue.

If you don’t have space for a large system, you’ll need to spread your water storage throughout your house.  You can look for smaller storage components like these. Put your beds on risers and fill the space under them with water. place them under coffee tables. Make end tables out of them and cover them with a pretty cloth.

It can take a lot of creativity to fit in all of your preps in a small space. Don’t feel tied to keeping kitchen supplies in the kitchen. Spread things throughout your home and you can fit in more than you ever imagined.

How do you find the space to store a large supply of water when your storage areas are outside and subject to blazing heat in the summer and freezing cold in the winter?

Extremes of temperature can cause major challenges for your water storage. Of course, it’s best if you can find a place to store them without those extremes, like a basement, but if there’s no other option it’s better to store them outside than to not store water at all.

You can invest in BPA-free storage containers to make this a little bit safer. Another option is the large storage tanks. High-density polyethylene IBC tanks are made to withstand the heat of the desert. Be sure to leave any container that is subject to temperature extremes about 10% empty to allow room for expansion in the event that the contents should freeze.

Whatever containers you opt to use, keep them shaded from the direct sunlight. Constant exposure to UV rays will cause the plastic to break down after a period of time.

What do you recommend for upper floor apartment dwellers? Everything must be carried upstairs and space is limited.

Oh, how I remember the days of living in a 3rd-floor walk-up.  Water storage and prepping, in general, can be pretty tough in those situations.

First you have to lug it all up the stairs (which is where kids come in handy – you can make them do some/most of the lugging).  When I lived in that apartment I used only 1-gallon jugs because they were easier to get up the stairs.

However, that’s not the only reason to use smaller containers in smaller spaces. Small containers are a lot easier to stuff into every nook and cranny. I had a small attic crawlspace that was simply stuffed with filled water jugs. I lined the floors of our closets with them and put boards on top of the water for shoe shelves.

You have to be very careful not to put all your water in one place because it gets very heavy. A gallon of water weighs 8 pounds, not including the container. Spread the weight out across your apartment, particularly if you live in an older home that was converted into apartments.

Can I reuse milk jugs, juice jugs, and 2-liter soda pop bottles for water storage?

FEMA recommends that you do not use containers that have held milk or juice.   That’s because milk protein and fruit sugars can’t be completely removed. When water is then stored in the containers, dangerous bacteria can grow. The agency recommends plastic 2-liter soda bottles as a safer option.

My family doesn’t consume soda, so we wait until the 1-gallon jugs of water go on sale and stock up on those. They can also be safely refilled for future water storage.

Gaye’s note:  Chiming in here I want to say that any type of container is okay for storing water for cleaning and toilet flushing.  Such containers should be well marked so that if they are absolutely required for drinking water, the water can be boiled or purified prior to consumption.  Also, be mindful that lightweight milk jugs are not very durable and over time, may not hold up.  You would not want to store them on your nice carpet or hardwood floor but rather someplace where a leak would not cause havoc.

How long can water be stored before it needs to be replaced?

Water doesn’t spoil, despite all of the expiration dates and warnings to use it within 6 months. However, it can become stale, pick up flavors from things nearby, or become contaminated.

Gaye has written about this too in her excellent article Five Myths of Water Storage. She wrote:

“Water does not expire.  Ever.  Sure, water can become chemically or biologically contaminated and foul, but it doesn’t go bad or spoil.

What can happen to water is that it can go stale and look or taste bad.  One thing you can do to make water that has been standing around for awhile taste better is to aerate it by stirring it up or pouring it from one jug to another to introduce some oxygen.

If the cleanliness of the water is in question, it can be purified with purification tablets, fresh bleach, or a filtering system such as the Berkey or LifeStraw, among others.

Technically, if water is stored in a cool, dark area and away from chemical and toxic fumes, it should last forever.”

If you live in suburbia, is there a way to disguise a larger outside water storage system so it goes unnoticed by your neighbors or the casual observer passing by?

There are some really attractive water collection containers that look like large urns or planters. To all but casual observers, these will just look like part of your exterior decor.

It gets trickier when you are trying to disguise the larger containers, like the 275-gallon tanks. You can screen these from view using a section of decorative fence with pretty landscaping in front of it, growing some shrubs, or enclosing it in a small area with a privacy fence.

When it comes to storing water, I have read that you shouldn’t store containers directly on cement floors. What should you use as a barrier between the cement and the container?

Chemicals can leach from the concrete into the water when it gets hot. So if you are storing your water in an outdoor shed or garage, it’s important to raise your containers off of the cement.  You can easily do this with those wooden pallets that are constantly offered for free. Other options would be floor tiles or plywood risers.

How long beyond the expiration date can water be safely stored in bottles it comes in from the grocery store?

The interesting thing about the expiration dates on water bottles is that it has nothing to do with the water. The expiration date is for the bottle.  According to Smithsonianmag.com, you really don’t have much to worry about as long as you store the bottles, unopened, at moderate temperatures. FEMA, on the other hand, recommends you observe the “use by” date.

Personally, I’d feel perfectly comfortable using commercially bottled water almost indefinitely.

Should we be concerned about chemical leaching from plastic storage containers used for long-term water storage?

BPA is a very reasonable concern. It has been proven to cause hormone disruption and is suspected to be a cause of cancer. In a perfect world, all of our water would be stored in BPA-free containers or glass. However, that’s expensive and heavy. There are some things you can do to reduce the risks.

  • Avoid exposing water stored in plastic to extremes in temperature – both heat and freezing can cause toxins to leach into your water.
  • Choose containers marked with #1, #2, or #4 on the bottom
  • Do NOT choose containers with #7 marked on the bottom
  • Do not wash plastic containers in the dishwasher. This breaks them down and makes them more likely to leach into their contents.

There are BPA-free 5 gallon jugs available, but it’s important to note that these are not very rugged and break easily. Also, they can’t be stacked for the same reason. However, with the right storage set up, they can work if you handle them carefully.

What is the safest, least expensive way to store water?

I store a great deal of water in 5-gallon jugs. I can pick up one every week or so for a reasonable price and put it in my well house, which maintains a pretty standard temperature all year long. I also have a top-loading water dispenser so that we can access the water easily in an emergency. These have tightly sealed lids and keep your water uncontaminated.

What is the safest, least expensive way to store water? Re-purposed 2 liter soda bottles!Click To Tweet

Gaye’s note: Because we do not drink sodas (called “pop” in the West), I store a lot of water in re-purposed Power-Ade bottles.  I wash them first in soapy water then rinse well before filling them with filtered Berkey water or tap water.  I mark the outside so I know which is which.

Because I have a lot of excess freezer space, I store them there.  If you do choose this option, be sure to leave some head space to allow for expansion as the water freezes.  I have a high degree of confidence that this water will be safe for drinking but if, when the time comes, it looks cloudy or weird, I will purify it first using bleach or Calcium Hypochlorite aka pool shock.

If you have not done so already, you might want to read How to Use Pool Shock to Purify Water and add some to you emergency supplies.  It is very inexpensive.

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The Final Word

When discussing emergency water, many overlook the importance of managing expectations.  The term “managing expectations” is often used in the business world within the context of customer satisfaction.  In a similar manner, anticipating what life will be like with a compromised water supply will help ease the burden when and if the time comes.

I fully endorse Daisy’s recommendation that you hold a “no-running-water” drill.  This will help you determine not only how much you use, but also was is lacking in your water preps.  My own drill lasted 12 days.  It took me by surprise when a leak occurred at our meter. I learned a lot through the process an now have the confidence I can survive a water crisis with aplomb.

I hope you have found the question and answer portion of  the series on Emergency Water for Preppers to be informative and useful.  In case you missed them, here are links to Parts 1 and 2 as well as to the final article which is compilation of some of the best free resources on the web.

Emergency Water for Preppers Part 1: Acquisition
Emergency Water for Preppers Part 2: Purification
Emergency Water For Preppers: Resources You Need to Know About

Coming up in Part 4 is a roundup of some of my favorite articles on emergency water along with some other, 100% free resources from around the web.  When it comes to emergency water, you just need to be educated and smart, not rich!

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
Gaye

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Bargain Bin:  Below you will find links to the items related to today’s article.

WaterBrick Water Storage Containers:  Each stackable WaterBrick holds 3.5 gallons of water, making for easy storage.  I know from your emails that they are popular with apartment and mobile home dwellers.  Plus, you can purchase them in sets or individually so that you can customize according to your needs.

The Prepper’s Water Survival Guide:  You can survive up to three weeks without food, but only three days without water. When catastrophe strikes, having enough water can spell the difference between life and death. This book offers a step-by-step plan with straightforward information you can easily follow.  Written by my friend Daisy Luther, I recommended the book for everyone’s survival library!

LifeStraw Personal Water FilterThe Amazon Top Ten Most Wanted Survival and Outdoor Items Backdoor Survival:  The LifeStraw is considered the most advanced, compact, ultra light personal water filter available. It contains no chemicals or iodinated resin, no batteries and no moving parts to break or wear out. It weighs only 2 oz.  making it perfect for the prepper. For more information, see my LifeStraw review.  There is also the LifeStraw Family that can be used to filter 9 to 12 liters per hour.

Puralytics SolarBag Water Purifier: I reviewed the Solar Bag last year and cannot say enough good things about it.  This is by far the easiest way to purify water using the sun.  It even works on a cloudy day; it just takes longer.  Here is my review: The SolarBag Water Purifier.

DryTec Calcium Hypochlorite, 1-Pound:  This is 68% Calcium Hypochlorite.  As of this writing, the price is under $10 with free shipping.  I purchased Ultima Pool ShockThe Sunday Survival Buzz #128 Backdoor Survival which is 73% Calcium Hypochlorite.  For more information, read How to Use Pool Shock to Purify Water.

New Wave Enviro Products BPA Free Bottle:  These 3 and 5 gallon BPA free jugs are reusable and a viable option for storing water for use during emergencies.

Potable Aqua Water Treatment Tablets: Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets make questionable water bacteriologically suitable to drink. Easy to use and the water is ready to drink in 30 minutes. One 50 tablet bottle treats 25 quarts of water.

AquaPod:  Have you considered storing water in your bathtub?  The AquaPod is a bladder that you can use in your bathtub to store water if you know that a storm, flood, or hurricane is brewing. (I call these “disruptive events”.)

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Comments

Emergency Water for Preppers Part 3: Storage — 13 Comments

  1. Gaye,
    I purchased a couple of water pods that fit in the tub. If you know that an emergency may be coming (storms, etc) you simply take it out of the box and place in the bathtub. It fills from the tub spikot and has a manual pump that comes with it. This would be ideal for apartment dwellers. They hold about 100 gallons of water. Since most apartments’ bathrooms are structurally designed for the tub and water weight, you don’t have to worry about the tub going through the ceiling.

    Alan

        • And if the bathroom has a a window, make sure you cover any non-opaque water storage bag with a towel or something else lightweight but opaque to avoid algal growth. Keeping the light out of the water storage is key if this will be a long term event and you need to keep that 100 gallons for a month or three….

  2. Should you add any preventative (bleach) to your water before you store it?
    Also, any comments about the preferred PH of survival water. We have very alkaline ground water and was wondering if you should/can alter to a desirable level.

    • A lot depends on how clean your bottles are before storing the water. Water will not go bad, generally, but if the storage container is not spotlessly clean, there is a chance that the water will become contaminated over time. If you have any doubts, go ahead and add a drop or two of bleach. Alternately, rotate your water every six months or so.

      I personally swish bleach through my storage container before filling with water so I do not add any after the fact. I also run my home-bottled water through the Berkey before drinking. I am a worry wart so I take the extra step.

  3. very good article! one comment to add: if you want to use gallon jugs to store water, be sure to use the clear ones. the ones made of translucent plastic will leak after a few months. i always buy my bottled water in clear jugs so i can re-use them for storage.

    • I agree. As Gaye mentioned, plastic milk bottles do spring leaks after a few months. Milk is expected to last a very few weeks, so there is no reason to make the jugs last for years. They are fine for short term storage, though, if you know an event like a hurricane is on the way. Just wash them out with hot soapy water, and ideally keep them in a dark place.

      We also keep at least one in each refrigerator freezer, partly in case of blackouts, but routinely for throwing one in a cooler when we go grocery shopping. Then any delay in getting home won’t hurt whatever needs to be kept cold.

  4. Gaye, thank you again for a great site.
    I read recently about storing water in your canning jars after emptying them. But they water bathed them for 10 or 15 min. The only reason I could come up with was if you need sterile water for first-aid? What do you think why they would go to the trouble of canning them?

  5. I’ve been researching for hours and cannot find any scientific evidence that you should not store your water on concrete. In fact, I’ve read a lot about how it is a “prepper’s wives tale”. I can find lots of quotes from people – even people with fancy titles, but I haven’t been able to find anything “concrete” so to speak. I found a study that says concrete doesn’t off gas after about 28 days of curing, and what about all the cisterns, and even water filtration systems made our of concrete?

    My barrels have deformed over time on pallets, they start to sag in between the boards and then are unstable. It seems that at over 8lbs a gallon, it is safe to store water directly on the concrete….? Do you have any sources to show why we shouldn’t besides the “leeches chemicals”? Thanks in advance

    • I don’t have any hard evidence either way, but I put those garage floor mats under the 5 gallon jugs of water I’m storing, since they will compress evenly. But if I can get a 250 gallon emergency tank into the basement, I don’t plan on putting anything between it and the concrete. The tank I’m looking at has a 3′ diameter, so all of the 2000+ lbs of water will be sitting on the concrete since it’ll be exerting about 2.5 psi on the flooring material and I doubt any padding will stand up to that.

    • Hi Steve, I’ve come around to question the ‘no contact with concrete’ for the same reason: cisterns all over the world are made of concrete.

      When we got our water barrel, we had a big scrap of countertop granite lying around, so we put that under the barrel, but I don’t think it was needed.

      A while back I asked a fellow prepper who does some consulting. He was familiar with the issue, and said that when he installed his 1500 gallon plastic water tank, the instructions said it should be laid on a concrete pad.

      In any case, a barrier should not create any problems, so if one is more comfortable with a barrier, I’d go with one. Just not one which, like yours, would allow the bottom of the barrel to deform, or one which might crush over time and make the barrel tip.

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